Tag Archives: Free Stories

The Magic Of Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello everyone! Welcome to day 10 of the Rainbow Advent Calendar! If you’re new here, I’m C. J. Anthony, and I write M/M Romance. If you click on the Books tab above, there is a listing with links for all of my stories.

I hope everyone has been enjoying the Advent stories this year! For reference the link to the Advent story Facebook group is here. Every day two stories will be posted and they will will be announced in the group.

A Master List of all the stories’ links is posted here.

My story is about two ornaments and a little magic that leads to a lot of love. 🙂 Below I’ve posted a short bit about how this story came to be. But if you want to keep scrolling on to the story only, I won’t be offended. 🙂

There is a Tori Amos song I love called Cooling — It’s on a live album called To Venus and Back. On this live recording, she tells this story about the song, how she meant for it to be on a previous album and the song (as if it were a live being) was like “umm, no.” And then she meant to put it on the next album and the song, was like “yeah, no, not on that one either.”  She says finally the song decided it wanted to be played live.   Well…that is kind of what happened with this story. I originally started it for a submission call about ornaments and magic, intending to publish it but…writing and I have had a break up of sorts this year. It took forever for me to start, then the words came slow…and pretty soon the deadline arrived and not only was the story not done, it was no where near the length needed to submit. The story was just like…”yeah, I don’t want to be written right now.” So…I set the story aside and just let it go.

Then the Rainbow Advent Calendar came along, and the story woke up and decided, “sure I could do this.” And so here it is…finally. Disclaimer: Please be gentle when reading. I gave it as much love as I could on my own, but there wasn’t enough time to proof and polish much. It is presented as-is, a humble, sweet Christmas story for readers to enjoy for the holiday season.

And one other note: The reason I was so determined to finish this story and put it somewhere, was in memory of my mom. See, my mom was not only a huge lover of Christmas decorations, but also of Hallmark Christmas ornaments. She collected them for years, and always spent days putting them up on her tree, in just the perfect spots. (Also nearly all of the ornaments mentioned are actually real ornaments, currently residing on my tree. I really hope they don’t come to life while I’m asleep. 🙂 )

If you’d prefer to download a PDF of my story:  The Magic of Christmas PDF

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

BONG….bong…bong.

The last chime from the grandfather clock died out and Christmas Eve gave way to Christmas Day as the midnight hour finally struck.

The Christmas tree—as dark and silent as the rest of the house—stood opposite the clock in a corner of the room.

Two soft popping sounds pierced the silence. Two explosions of light burst from different branches on the tree. Two heavy objects thudded to the carpet, followed by two muffled grunts.

And then…silence again.

Two young men were now sprawled on the carpet, breathing deeply in the dark. They took their time getting their bearings and letting their eyes adjust to the darkness.

“Leo?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” The sandy-haired man uttered a groan. He sat up and rubbed his shoulder. “I think I caught the edge of a table. But I’m okay.”

There was a scuffling noise as the other, darker haired man crawled over to Leo, reaching out and touching Leo’s sore shoulder.

“Teddy, I’m fine…really.” Leo placed his hand over Teddy’s and they paused, letting the solid connection between them settle in to their bones as they stared quietly at each other in the dark.

“Come on,” Leo finally said, softly. He stood up and held out his hand. Teddy grabbed it and pulled himself up. He continued to hold onto Leo’s hand as Leo guided them around the furniture and into the kitchen.

Flipping the wall switch bathed the whole room in a harsh light that had them both blinking several times to adjust their eyesight. Teddy’s vision cleared, bringing the man in front of him into perfect focus…finally.

Reaching up, he cupped Leo’s face in his hands reverently. He swallowed deeply. “Leo,” he breathed.

Their foreheads met, as Leo put both of his hands on Teddy’s hips and pulled him closer. Teddy’s eyes fluttered shut and a loud, deep sigh escaped his lips. Leo reached down and lightly stroked his thumbs over Teddy’s eyelids.

“Don’t close those eyes to me, I’ve been waiting a whole year to see those beautiful baby blues.”

Teddy, unable to not follow a command from Leo, opened his eyes, staring directly into Leo’s gorgeous emerald green eyes. Smiles broke out over both of their faces.

“Hi,” Leo said.

“Hi,” Teddy said, smiling even broader. Happiness flowed over his whole body, like a gooey river of warm honey.

“God, you’re adorable.”

Teddy ducked his head shyly. It was not the first time Leo had said those words to him, but oh how he loved every time he heard them.

 

~*~*~*~   Once Upon a Time….   ~*~*~*~

MANY years before, Mr. McPhearson decided to give his wife, Mrs. McPhearson, an ornament every year for Christmas. For their first Christmas together, he gave her a small glass bottle of fake sand and seashells, as a remembrance of their honeymoon in St. Maarten. For their second Christmas he gave her a small house with a sold sign next to it, as they had just bought their first home. And the year their first son was born, he gave her an adorable little toy soldier. The soldier was colorfully dressed in a bright red jacket and bright blue pants with a silver thimble for a hat. He had dark hair and a round face with two pink circles on his cheeks.

Every year the soldier was taken out of the storage box of Christmas decorations at the beginning of December and hung on the tree. He stood there—at attention with a smile and a salute—for the whole month, until the holidays were over and he was put back in the storage box for the other 11 months of the year.

The soldier’s name was Teddy, and he loved his time on the tree, silently witnessing the joy of the McPhearson family enjoying their Christmases. But his favorite was Christmas Eve night, seeing Santa appear and leave presents for the family. Santa was such a magical being. Teddy always held his breath in awe—or would have if he could actually breathe—while Santa did his job. He stared straight ahead and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. And Santa, for the most part, paid no special attention to Teddy or the other ornaments on the tree. Despite his trying to be unnoticeable, Teddy was still a bit disappointed every year that the big guy never even looked their way. Still, he supposed Santa saw a million Christmas trees every year. And if you’ve seen one, you’ve probably seen them all.

Then, one year it happened—and if Teddy had had a heart it would have jumped out of his chest. Santa had finished putting his packages under the tree, and as he stood upright, he paused. He paused, and not only did he look at the tree, he leaned in closer. His eyes narrowed and darted quickly around, scanning all of the little ornaments before his focus finally landed on…Teddy. Santa tilted his head back and forth as he studied the little toy soldier. Then his lips drew up and he chuckled out loud. He placed one finger to his nose and with the other hand, touched another finger to Teddy’s silver helmet. There was a spark of light, and Teddy felt a strange warm sensation throughout his little body. Santa lifted his hand away and with a blink he was gone, the eerie echo of his laughter still remaining.

Teddy didn’t know what had just happened and he felt really weird the rest of the night—his whole body was twitchy but of course, he couldn’t move. By the time the clock struck six a.m., he was exhausted. Until he noticed that the strange sensations were suddenly gone. He breathed—if he could have breathed—a huge sigh of relief.

The rest of the holiday season passed as usual. And when he was hung on the tree the next year, again, he was the same, plain, old, ordinary ornament. Until Christmas Eve night. When the clock struck midnight, a crackling energy passed through him. He didn’t know what was going on…he felt like he was burning from the inside. The heat just rising and rising and rising until he shattered into a million pieces.

And then suddenly there was just silence and darkness. The heat was gone, replaced with shivers from the chill. He became aware of the ticking of the clock and the sound of his breathing, and the scratchy carpet against his skin.

Wait…he thought. I can hear the clock? I’m breathing? He bolted upright and that was when he realized he could move. He moved his arm and stared at his hands. He moved his fingers one at a time. He looked down at his legs and moved his feet back and forth.

He sat there dazed for a few minutes before jumping up—and almost falling back down from the head rush. He hurried to the gold-framed glass on the wall. He didn’t know what it was but he had seen the McPhearsons use it many times. They looked into it and could see a reflected image of themselves. Sure enough, the light was very dim in the room but he recognized what he saw—the silly silver hat, the dark hair, the ridiculously red jacket. The only difference was that he looked like Mr. McPhearson! Well not exactly like him, but he had a man’s face just like Mr. McPhearson did. He reached up and touched himself—his cheeks , his nose, his eyes, and his lips. He didn’t look like a cute, young, plastic toy soldier. He looked like a human!

It was so confusing for him. He didn’t know what to do or why this had happened. Two long hours passed as he just sat on the floor, stunned.

Finally Santa showed up and Teddy nearly tackled him.

As Santa pulled back and looked at him, his face eased. “Oh well, hey there. How’s it going?”

“How’s it going?” Teddy asked with a squeak.

“Shhh!” Santa shushed him. “Keep it down, you’ll wake your family and then we’re both up shit’s creek.”

“What happened to me? What did you do to me?”

“Relax. Chill out, my son. I gave you a gift! Doesn’t it feel wonderful to escape that silly little plastic body for a while?”

“No! Yes! I don’t know! What am I? What’s happened? What ‘gift’ did you give me?”

Santa smirked. “I gave you the gift of life! Every Christmas night, at exactly midnight, you will turn human. But it is only temporary, so make the most of it. At dawn, you turn back into that idiot ornament and back on the tree you go.”

“B-b-but…what am I supposed to do? Until dawn?”

Santa bent over and dug into his sack, pulling out gifts and tossing them under the tree. His reply to Teddy was muffled. “Anything you want to do.”

And then Santa turned to face him, raised two fingers by his forehead in salute, and with a puff of swirling glitter—was gone.

 

 

THAT first year, Teddy was too confused and terrified to do anything. He spent the whole night sitting on the carpet, knees curled into his chest, trying not to make a sound.

The next year he got a bit braver and he tiptoed through the downstairs of the house, exploring. He was still afraid to touch anything so most of the night was spent sitting by the tree, waiting for the clock to strike six.

Two more years passed. By now, Teddy dreaded the whole Christmas holiday. The weeks he hung lifeless on the tree were just an endless countdown to Christmas Eve. He no longer found joy in watching his human family get ready for the holiday.

The hours between midnight and six a.m. Christmas morning were cold and dark and lonely. Teddy was miserable and he couldn’t wait until he could be put back into his storage box for the rest of the year.

 

 

FOR their tenth Christmas together Mr. MacPhearson gave Mrs. MacPhearson a small music box-style ornament. It was an ivory gazebo and inside a dapper blond man dressed in black tie and tails—Prince Charming—and a woman in a pretty pale pink gown—the Princess—stood in a waltz pose. When the key on the back of the base was wound, the couple would spin round and round and round to the tinkling music that played.

From where Teddy hung at the top of the tree, he didn’t have a good view of the newest ornament but he did hear the music a lot. Mrs. MacPhearson loved the ornament and played it quite often.

As the clock chimed out at midnight, Teddy steeled himself. He didn’t know if he’d ever get used to the agonizing pain and horrible tearing of his body that happened as he transformed, but at least he was resigned to it by now.

The crash landing on the scratchy Persian carpet was actually a relief, because it told him the worst was over. He inhaled deeply, but before he expelled the breath on his own, it was knocked out of him by what felt like a sack of potatoes…a very large, very full, sack of potatoes. He had spied one such bag in the MacPhearson’s kitchen on one of his exploratory wanderings and it refused to budge when he tried to lift it.

Teddy involuntarily let out a cry, and then immediately glanced toward the stairs, fearing the family may have heard. He lay there for a moment, wondering if he could even move. The warm breath he felt on his cheek spiked the racing of his heart.

As he sat up, the sack of potatoes slipped off of him. Looking down Teddy was shocked to see the weight was actually a blond man in a fancy tuxedo. It was the dancing Prince from the music box ornament! His eyes were closed and Teddy didn’t know if he was alive or not. Slowly the man’s eyelids fluttered open and Teddy’s stomach flip-flopped at the brilliant green eyes looking up at him.

They stared at each other for several ticks of the noisy clock. As the blond man’s eyebrows began to furrow, Teddy finally spoke.

“It’s okay…well, it will be okay. Are you hurt? Can you move?”

The man blinked a few times before he swiveled his head from side to side. His eyes grew wide at the movement. Teddy smiled encouragingly and nodded at him. Slowly the man shifted into a sitting position. He looked down at his hands and his legs. He stretched his arms and rotated his shoulders.

Teddy let out a sigh of relief. “Good. That’s good.” He smiled reassuringly at the man, who was still looking distressed and confused.

The man moved his lips several times before words finally came out. His voice was hoarse at first.

“Wh…what. Is. Going on? What am I?”

Teddy sighed. “Well…you’re human.” He glanced at the clock. “For six more hours at least.”

“Six. Hours? Then. What?”

“Then you turn back into your ornament self again. Until next year.”

The man’s whole face scrunched up with what Teddy knew were a million more questions bursting to be asked. So he explained the whole story—or as much as he knew—about Santa and the mysterious magic spell he had placed on Teddy.

“That’s what happened to me,” Teddy finished. “You’re new this year though, so…do you have any idea what might have happened to you?”

The tension finally left the man’s face as he perked up with realization. “Santa came into the ornament factory one night, when no one was around! He walked all through the place, picking up random ornaments. There would be a small flash of light and then he would set the ornament back down and move on to another.” His eyes widened further. “And he did the same to me! Holy reindeer poop! I wondered what he did to me…but I would never have guessed something like this!”

They both stared at each other for a few minutes.

“So…we’ll be like this for six hours?”

Teddy nodded.

“What happens next?”

“What do you mean? Teddy asked.

“We’ve got six hours!” The man exclaimed. “What do you usually do?”

“I usually just sit here and wait until it’s over,” Teddy explained.

The man frowned. “That sounds pretty boring. Does the family ever wake up?”

Teddy shook his head.

The man stood up and stretched. “Well I want to do something. I’m motionless all year long. I’m going to enjoy every moment of my six hours!”

Teddy looked uneasy. “But…what if we get caught?”

“We’ll be super quiet—” he paused and looked right at Teddy. “Do we have names? Like the family calls themselves?”

Teddy nodded. He remembered his first human night. He didn’t know how or where it came from, but his name had just been something inside him that he knew.

“I’m Teddy.”

The man’s eyebrows furrowed and he blinked several times.

“Just concentrate,” Teddy said softly. “It’s there.”

Teddy knew the exact moment he found it, the man’s face was so expressive. He lit up and smiled.

“I’m…Prince Leopold Alexander the Third.” He instantly frowned. “I like ‘Teddy.’ Why do I have so many names?”

Teddy shrugged. “Because you’re a Prince, I guess?”

Prince Leopold’s face dropped. “I don’t like all of those names. They’re too much. And I don’t want to be a Prince, whatever that is.”

Teddy, thought for a moment. “What about just ‘Leopold?’”

The Prince’s face scrunched up. “That’s an awful name.”

Teddy sighed. “Well…how about…Leo?”

Prince Leopold’s face lit up as if he was the sun. And Teddy’s whole body warmed up as if the sun really was shining down upon him.

“Leo!” Prince Leopold’s—now Leo’s—smile split his face as he laughed. “I love it!”

 

 

LEO made a beeline for the kitchen. He hadn’t been around long, but he clearly had been studying the family. Turning on the light, his gaze darted all around the room until he found what he was looking for—the plate of colorful cookies sitting on the counter.

He picked one up in the shape of a man and stared at it reverently. He put it up to his nose and took a big whiff, sighing happily. Quickly he opened his mouth and just as the man cookie’s head was inside, he paused.

Closing his mouth without biting the cookie, he looked over at Teddy. “Can we eat? Like the human family does?”

Teddy blinked. “Um… I don’t know. I never tried.”

Leo nodded thoughtfully while looking again at the cookie. Then he grinned and before Teddy could utter a word, he stuffed the cookie into his mouth and bit off the man cookie’s head. His eyes closed and a loud moan erupted from his throat.

The noise did something strange to Teddy’s midsection but he ignored it, too scared of being discovered.

“Shhhhh!” Teddy whispered.

Leo was too blissed out on the cookie to hear him though. He was biting and chewing and swallowing as if he had never eaten before—which, of course, he hadn’t actually.

“These are amazing! The taste is so…soft and sweet and buttery. I’ve seen the family eating these and they’re so pretty and they seem to make the family so happy and I have been dying to know what they were like!”

He looked over at Teddy, face shining. “Come, have one!”

Teddy shrunk back in to a corner and shook his head.

Leo rolled his eyes. “Come on, they’re fantastic!”

Teddy took two steps then stopped. “But what if they notice that some are gone?”

“They’re not going to notice one…or two.” Leo had already finished his cookie and picked up another one. He patted the counter next to the plate and waved Teddy over, motioning with the cookie in his hand.

Teddy finally shuffled over and gingerly hoisted himself onto the counter. In a flash, Leo was shoving the cookie in his mouth. He bit quickly and ended up with too big of a bite which made him sputter. He chewed and gulped it down, but not before the flavors exploded on his tongue. He hummed, louder than he should have.

Leo smiled broadly. “See? Amazing, right?”

Teddy nodded, mouth still full of cookie. Leo reached out and wiped a stray glob of icing off of the corner of Teddy’s mouth with his thumb. His fingers lingered a beat longer than necessary on Teddy’s chin as he stared at him. Teddy’s whole face grew hot and he didn’t know why.

“God, you’re adorable,” Leo said, still smiling.

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

TEDDY was jolted from his past memories by Leo’s soft lips on his. The gentle pressure and proceeding warmth that flowed over him definitely grounded him into the here and now. Teddy couldn’t help the low moan that escaped as their mouths opened to each other, deepening the sensuous kiss even more.

Leo hummed contentedly when he finally pulled away. Teddy’s body leaned toward him, not ready to end things so quickly. Leo chuckled and grabbed Teddy as he swayed unsteadily.

“Whoa there, soldier. Food first, my love.”

Teddy sighed unhappily.

The kitchen was always their first stop, and Leo always said the same thing—it was because they needed food in their “new” human bodies. Teddy, however, was convinced it was because Leo just wanted Christmas cookies.

“You just love those cookies more than me.”

Leo had already started tearing into the cookies and digging around in the MacPhearsons’ fridge for more food they could nibble on.

“I do, that’s true.” Leo’s voice echoed from the depths of the refrigerator.

Teddy grabbed a nearby dishtowel and swatted Leo on his cute behind.

Leo popped up from the fridge, plates and plastic containers piled in his arms. Gracefully he deposited his loot on the counter, grabbed a cookie, turned and shoved it in Teddy’s open mouth. All before Teddy could get a word out.

“Mff-mmuf-mhhn.”

Leo laughed.

Teddy gulped his bite down and pulled the remainder of the cookie from his mouth. “They are pretty good.”

 

LEO arranged some food on a small platter—crackers, meats and cheeses, some fruit and of course, several varieties of cookies. As usual, the MacPhearsons had held their annual Christmas party the night before and there were always plenty of leftovers that wouldn’t be missed. Teddy grabbed the large throw blanket from the back of the sofa and they headed into the small library room adjacent to the living room. They picked this room as “their room,” to spend the evening in because it was away from the tree and other decorations in the main room, and because it had a fireplace. An electric fireplace—which meant they had light and heat and no smoke or flames to risk waking the MacPhearsons.

 

PICKING the last cracker up from the platter, Leo gestured to Teddy. Teddy shook his head, so Leo popped the whole cracker into his mouth. Chewing and swallowing, he let out a sigh of contentment.

“Happy now?” Teddy asked.

“No.” Leo leaned over and claimed Teddy’s lips. The kiss was strong, with an underlying heat that made Teddy warm all the way to his toes.

Leo pulled away just enough to speak. “Now I’m happy,” he breathed. Teddy’s face flushed and he smiled. Leo leaned back further and traced Teddy’s lips with his finger. “Happy Anniversary.”

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

THE second of Teddy and Leo’s Christmases together, while they were eating, Leo had asked Teddy what an “anniversary” was—he had heard the MacPhearsons talking about it and wanted to know what it was. Teddy tried to explain it, as much as he knew. How Mr. and Mrs. MacPhearson loved each other and that anniversary was the word for the day they celebrated being together another year.

“So…just like you and me?”

Teddy’s eyebrows had shot up and his mouth dropped open. “Well….”

“We’re together right?”

Teddy tried to find words. “I…don’t know. I…think it’s different.”

Leo looked at him questioningly. “How?”

“B-because they…hold hands. And kiss each other.”

Leo’s eyes lit up. “Yes! I have seen them do that!”

And before Teddy knew what was happening, Leo had grabbed his hands and kissed him. Teddy had never felt anything like it. His cheeks grew hot.

Leo grinned. “I liked that. A lot.”

A small smile spread across Teddy’s face. “Me too,” he whispered.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

“TEDDY? Teddy?”

Coming back to the present, he looked at Leo. “Yes, Happy Anniversary,” he said, delighting in the happiness he saw in Leo’s eyes.

Leo caressed Teddy’s cheek with his thumb, and Teddy leaned into Leo’s touch. They were still so close that Teddy could feel Leo’s breath on his skin and his pulse spiked.

Leo’s lips moved over Teddy’s again. He opened willingly, eagerly taking Leo in. Leo’s answering groan reverberated through both of them.

“God I miss this,” Leo mumbled as he pulled away and attacked Teddy’s neck. “So unfair…only once a year…hmmm.”

Teddy closed his eyes and ignored Leo’s words, choosing instead to focus on the fire of Leo’s nips and kisses on his throat. Leo lamented the same thing every year—and every year he got more and more frustrated with their situation and their time constraints. Teddy understood, but he was more accepting of their fate. They were Christmas ornaments. They were not supposed to be human at all, and were lucky for the time they did have together.

Leo shifted to kiss Teddy’s lips again, moving his other hand to grip Teddy’s hair, carding his fingers through the soft curls. Teddy giggled as Leo’s body fell onto his, crushing him flat to the floor.

“Laughing? Are you laughing, Teddy Bear?” Leo breathed. He ground his hips against Teddy’s. Teddy’s whole body was burning up now, and his breathing was shallow.

“Jus—ungh!” Teddy groaned, as he felt Leo’s hardness rubbing against his own. The friction of their pants between them only heightened the sensation.

Leo grabbed at the snaps on Teddy’s red coat and pulled. The sound of each one tearing apart echoed in the quiet room. Bending, he began ravishing Teddy’s bare chest, kissing and licking…nipping and biting at his nipples. Teddy reflexively arched his body, panting with every touch from Leo.

Next he felt Leo’s hands deftly undoing his belt buckle and unzipping his pants. Teddy lifted his head up to see Leo staring back him with a wicked gleam in his eye. His heart hammered as he and Leo worked together to get rid of his pants. Before he could catch his breath, Leo’s mouth was on his cock, kissing and sucking him in.

Teddy couldn’t help himself as he grasped Leo’s hair in his fingers, probably pulling harder than he should have. Leo, however, never complained. Teddy bit his lip, trying not to yell. A low whine escaped, though, as all the blood and fire in his body headed south.

As fabulous as this felt, he wanted something else. He pushed on Leo’s shoulders to get him to ease off. He sat straight up and pulled Leo to straddle his lap. Leo was breathing heavily and his lips were so pretty—red and swollen. Teddy grinned and kissed him hard. Leo had long ago discarded his tuxedo jacket, but was still wearing his crisp white shirt and pants. Teddy reached out with shaking hands and began unbuttoning Leo’s shirt, greedily moving his fingers all over Leo’s bare skin. Leo broke their kiss, lolling his head back with a moan. He carded his fingers in Teddy’s curls.

“Oh…God…Teddy,” he whispered hoarsely.

Teddy unbuttoned and unzipped the tuxedo pants, reaching in to touch and stroke Leo’s cock. Feeling how hard Leo was only made Teddy more heated.

Leo gasped and groaned when Teddy touched him. Teddy was normally the more docile one when they were together. After that first kiss it had taken them another couple of years as they worked out how to move beyond kissing and explore their human bodies, figuring out what they liked and didn’t like. But every move forward had always been initiated by Leo—he was the fearless, adventurous one, never afraid of anything. And Teddy was happy to let him lead.

“What has gotten into you Teddy?” Leo asked breathlessly.

Teddy slowed his movement, doubt creeping in. “Is…is this okay?”

“God, yes, Teddy. Don’t stop!” And to further punctuate his approval, he kissed Teddy soundly on the lips.

It wasn’t long before they were both completely naked, their whole bodies touching everywhere they could. Leo reached over to the small olive oil decanter he’d brought with them from the kitchen. He poured some in one of his hands and slathered it on himself. Looking up he leaned over and placed a tender kiss on Teddy’s lips.

“Are you ready?” he asked quietly.

Teddy nodded. He always tensed a little at first, but Leo was so patient with him. Slowly he felt Leo enter him and he tried to relax. It was the strangest and yet most incredible feeling all at the same time. Leo moved slowly in and out until he hit that sweet spot that always made Teddy lose his mind. Teddy cried out loudly, forgetting to be quiet. Leo grinned and kissed him on the nose, before he started to lose himself in the heady sensation of being with Teddy.

“I love you so much,” Leo whispered.

 

AFTERWARD, they were sprawled out together on their backs, catching their breath. Leo turned toward Teddy and snuggled in close, pulling their bodies together.

“Mmmm…” he mumbled into Teddy’s shoulder. “I could do this every day.”

The clock chimed three times, as Teddy craned his neck to glance at it. “Or for three more hours,” he responded cheerfully.

Leo sighed and pulled away. “Yeah. Great. Three whole hours.”

Teddy half-sat up, leaning on his elbow. “Leo…” he murmured, placing a hand on Leo’s chest. But Leo wouldn’t look at him. This moment had been happening more and more the past few years. After the initial excitement of being together again, Leo would get dejected about the limited time they had.

Leo finally turned his head to face Teddy.

“Don’t you ever wish we had…more?” Leo asked sadly.

“More what?” Although Teddy already knew what he meant.

“More time! More adventures! More cuddling and kisses and…everything!”

“We’re lucky for what we have,” Teddy said quietly. He cupped Leo’s face in his hand and stared into his beautiful eyes. “I mean, we’re ornaments. We weren’t supposed to have this. It’s a gift, really.”

He leaned over and kissed Leo tenderly. “You are a gift,” he whispered.

Leo’s only response was a small wet tear sliding down his temple. Teddy simply kept kissing him, on his lips and his cheek and his nose and his mouth again—until finally Leo kissed him back earnestly. Minutes passed and all they did was kiss.

The heat in Teddy’s body was an inferno, travelling rapidly from their lips and down his body, until he wasn’t sure he could take anymore. Leo wrapped his arms around him and gripped Teddy, shoving his hips upward so they met.

Teddy broke from their kiss in surprise and delight and moaned loudly. “Oh Leo…oh please,” he breathed.

“Teddy…” Leo rasped, unable to do more.

After that they were grasping and touching. Limbs entwining, skin sliding together. Kissing and panting.

Leo growled and took control, rolling them so Teddy was under him, knocking over a glass.

“Ho, ho-OH!

Leo and Teddy froze. The room was instantly quiet, save for their breathing which they were desperately trying to get under control.

“Um, uh…sorry! Uh…don’t mind me!” A deep voice said.

Teddy peeked around Leo’s shoulder. There in the doorway of the room stood Santa. Or, the red suit said he was Santa, but it was not the same man that came every year. This Santa had dark tan skin and his hair and beard were more salt-and-pepper than pure white. He did have the girth to fill the suit out and at that moment his belly was shaking as he was trying to keep from busting out in laughter.

“I’ll just…ah…” he jerked his thumb toward the other room. “I’ll be in here. Be out of your hair before you know it. Just…ah…continue on boys!” He backed slowly into the other room with exaggerated movements.

Leo’s head collapsed onto Teddy’s chest. “Oh my God!” he whispered. “Is he gone?”

“Yes,” Teddy answered.

They could hear Santa shuffling around in the other room, and despite what he’d told them, there was no way they were going to go back to…what they were doing.

They scrambled up and threw on their clothes haphazardly.

Santa glanced over his shoulder when they walked into the room. “Seriously, boys, you didn’t have to stop. Heck, if I didn’t have to work tonight I’d certainly be in bed myself with Mr. Claus—”

He turned around completely then, and took the full sight of them in. No shoes, pants fastened. Leo’s white shirt unbuttoned and his bow tie hanging loosely from his collar, his jacket crammed on. Teddy had his red jacket on but unbuttoned. Santa’s expression was amused until he took closer notice of Teddy. His brows furrowed and he frowned.

“You, there….” He pointed at Teddy and gestured up and down. “What’s with the getup?”

Teddy blushed furiously. “I’m a toy soldier.”

“Like in a Christmas play?”

Teddy shook his head. “I’m—” he glanced at Leo. “We’re ornaments. Sir.”

Santa put his hands on his hips and sighed. “Dammit,” he said quietly. He motioned toward the couch. “Better have a seat, boys.”

 

THEY settled themselves gingerly on the couch, while Santa lowered himself onto an ottoman, so he could sit facing them.

“I’m sure you realize I’m a different Santa than the Santa who usually comes here.”

Leo and Teddy glanced at each other carefully before they both nodded.

“There’s been an elaborate secret investigation going on for a year now, at the North Pole. One of the elves blew the whistle on my predecessor. The North Pole Bureau of Investigation put some undercover elves all throughout the workshops and last month, they finally got enough evidence to indict the previous Santa, er, Walter Jackson. I had the next highest seniority so I got called up for the promotion. I am the new Santa Claus.”

Now Teddy was frowning. “What did they indict San—Mr. Jackson for?”

“Section 5.02, Illegal use of magic. And, one of the worst offenses in the law books, Creating human life for illegal and untoward reasons, section 10.53. He’s basically been shut away for the rest of his life.”

As Teddy and Leo stared at him uncomprehendingly, Santa continued.

“Basically, casting a spell on inanimate objects—like ornaments and toys—that turns them into human beings. And on top of that, making it a limited time spell that expires, changing you back. He was one twisted devil underneath al the cheery ho-ho-hos.” Santa shook his head grimly. “He had been the longest running Santa in North Pole history. I think the job just finally got to him and he snapped. Sad…it’s been a huge scandal, hit the whole community real hard.”

Santa clapped his white-gloved hands together. “As for the victims, such as yourselves, the judge also handed down a decision regarding your status. It is morally and unethically against the Constitution of the North Pole to allow your situation of ‘partial humanity’ to continue.”

At those words, Leo grabbed Teddy’s hand and squeezed it so tight, Teddy thought it might break. But he knew what Leo was thinking. This was it. This was their last night together.

“The judge ruled that there would be two options for the victims of this whole sordid mess.” He gestured toward Leo and Teddy. “Your fate is in your hands. You have the choice of going back to being an ornament and remaining so forever. Or, if you would like to remain human, you can come back with me to the North Pole and be welcomed as new members of our town.”

Teddy’s mind was whirling, trying to process what Santa was telling them. Leo’s grip on his hand eased and he heard him exhale.

“Are you saying…” Leo looked like he could hardly believe what he was about to say. “We could…stay human? Just like we are now?”

“Yes,” Santa said, a gentle smile on his face.

“Forever?”

“Forever.” Santa confirmed.

Leo practically bounced the whole couch when he turned to face Teddy. “Teddy! We can be together!”

Teddy’s eyes were wide as saucers. He opened his mouth to say something and to be as happy as Leo, but nothing came out.

Santa looked between them, watching them carefully. “You don’t have to decide right now, but I do need you to decide before I leave here tonight. Which is…” he glanced down at the presents scattered at his feet. “Soon.” He frowned and sighed. “Listen why don’t you two go discuss this privately. I can give you ten minutes but not more than that.”

“There’s nothing to discuss, Santa. Of course, we want—”

“Leo…” Teddy’s plea was quiet but loud enough that Leo heard.

Santa cleared his throat and stood up, busying himself with the presents.

Teddy didn’t need to say any more, Leo could see everything in his eyes.

“You’re kidding me!” Leo let go of Teddy’s hand. Raking his hand through his hair, he stood and stalked into the other room.

Teddy hurried to follow after him, but paused to look back at Santa.

“Did you…say you had a Mr. Claus?” Teddy asked.

Santa turned to Teddy and a wide grin split his whole face. “Yes, sir. Going on, oh, near twenty years now.”

Teddy smiled shakily.

 

LEO was pacing and stalking, gathering up the plates and food they had left, folding up the blanket. When he heard Teddy enter the room, he spun to face him.

“Do not tell me you would rather be an ornament for the rest of your life than be with me?”

“No…” Teddy said quietly.

Some of the anger left Leo and his body relaxed. He dropped the blanket and walked over to Teddy. He stroked the side of Teddy’s face. Teddy closed his eyes and swallowed hard. He bent his head down.

“Oh Teddy Bear.” Leo grasped both of Teddy’s hands in his and guided him to a love seat nearby. They sat down, facing each other.

“Teddy, your hands are shaking. What’s wrong?”

“I just…I can’t believe what Santa said.”

“I know I can’t either! But I’m excited by the news…and you don’t seem to feel the same way.”

Teddy sighed. “It’s such a big decision. I just think we should think about it—”

“But Teddy! What is there to think about? We could stay human! Forever! Just think about all the things we’d get to do and see…Teddy, we’ll be free! And we’ll be together! You can’t honestly say you’re considering going back to being a silly, non-moving plastic ornament can you? Stuck in a box in the dark for the whole year, except for one month when you have to hang on a stupid tree day and night?”

Teddy frowned miserably. “But there’s so much we’ve never done, Leo. We’ve never been real humans…truly. We’ll be surrounded by so many other humans we don’t know. What if they don’t like us? We don’t know how to do anything the humans do, like cooking food or building things or how to wash our clothes or… Leo! We don’t even have any clothes except what we’re wearing!”

“So, we’ll get more clothes.”

“And how? We don’t have any money!” Teddy had watched Mrs. MacPhearson one day tell Mr. MacPhearson that she needed a new dress for their Christmas party. He’d handed her some green paper—money, he’d later found out—and she came back later with a bag. She proceeded to pull the dress out of the bag to show Mr. MacPhearson.

“We’ll find a way to get some money,” Leo countered. “We’ll get jobs, like Mr. MacPhearson.”

“But we don’t know how to do anything!” Teddy whined. They were back full circle to his original concern.

“I know how to do one thing,” Leo said quietly. “I know how to love you.”

Teddy was out of words. A tear slipped down his face as he stared into Leo’s eyes. They were sad but dry. Leo’s lip was twitching though, so Teddy knew he was trying to hold his emotions in.

Leo reached out and lightly brushed Teddy’s tear away with his finger.

 

 

~*~*~*~   Two Years Later   ~*~*~*~

Teddy walked out of the station house, pulling his heavy police parka on over his uniform. He smiled and returned the greetings of a couple of his fellow officers as they passed, the two of them heading in to start their shifts. It was Christmas Eve and it had been a madhouse today. The stress levels of everyone in town were at Mach 10 with only a few more hours left until Santa hit the road tonight. The toy making elves were trying to cram last minute orders in and were working round the clock shifts. He’d gotten called over to the factory to bust up a fight between two elves over who the last Christmas cookie belonged to. He’d barely settled that skirmish when he had to go to the toy train department and deal with two elves that were arguing over whether the train should be painted blue or green.

He reached up and rubbed back of his neck, trying to ease the tight muscles. He was so glad he had not pulled the night shift. After Santa took off, it was time for everyone to let their hair down and celebrate not only the end of the busy season, but also the Christmas holiday itself. The whole town went a little crazy. Granted, it was well deserved—everyone at the North Pole worked hard all year long. But there were always a few partiers who partied themselves into a night in the drunk tank. As the rookie on the force last year he had had to work the night shift and it was completely overwhelming and exhausting.

“Hey red-nose! Where’s the rest of your clown suit?”

Teddy turned toward the raucous laughter and yelling.

“Bo-zo! Bo-zo the clown!” said a sing-song voice.

Teddy sighed. Blitzen’s son and some other young reindeer offspring were taunting Rudolf’s son, Ren. Ren had inherited his dad’s famous glowing red nose and was naturally dealing with constant taunting and teasing from the other kids. Even though his father’s story was the stuff of legend and his father was a well-respected hero at the North Pole because of his nose. It might be one thing if Ren was a regular kid with a difference like a weird nose…but being the son of the great Rudolph was an extra burden to bear.

“I’m not a clown!” Ren wailed.

The other reindeer started head-butting poor Ren. Teddy jogged across the street quickly.

“Hey kids, stop that! Break it up, now!” Teddy threw an authoritative tone into that last warning and it worked. They all stopped. Teddy placed what he hoped was a comforting hand on Ren’s back. The poor little guy was trembling.

“You okay, Ren? He asked quietly. Ren didn’t speak but answered him with a shaky nod.

Teddy stood up straighter then and looked down at every one of the other reindeer.

“You boys should be ashamed of yourselves. I know your parents taught you better than that. I’m sure they wouldn’t want to find out what was going on here, would they?”

The young reindeer didn’t say anything, and purposely avoided eye contact with Teddy.

“Would they?” Teddy prompted again.

“No,” came the collective mumbled response.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Ren’s nose, is there?”

More mumbled “no’s”

“So you’re all going to apologize to Ren, aren’t you?”

“We’re sorry, Ren,” came the chorus of young voices.

Teddy looked back and forth between the others and Ren. “Okay. Now run on home and stop playing silly reindeer games in the street.”

All the young reindeer scampered off in different directions, Ren trailing behind. Before he got too far, he turned back around.

“Thanks, Officer Teddy.”

Teddy smiled at the little reindeer. “You’re welcome, Ren.”

 

TEDDY continued on down the street to his destination, Mr. Claus’s Sweet Treat Bake Shoppe.

The bell rang overhead as he opened the door. An exasperated sigh came from the back room.

“We are closing in five minutes and we are out of everything. Literally, we only have two gingerbread men left—oh, Teddy!”

Teddy grinned at the gorgeous sandy-haired, green-eyed man now behind the counter. His apron was caked with flour and red icing streaked across his cheek, but he was the most beautiful sight Teddy had ever seen.

Teddy strode across the small shop and jumped up to sit on the counter, before kissing Leo on the cheek and licking off the spatter of icing.

“Yummm,” he hummed.

Leo slapped Teddy’s leg with the towel he’d been holding. “You know you’re not supposed to sit on the counter and that was a poor excuse for a kiss, just to lick my icing!”

Teddy’s eyebrows waggled. “That sounds…naughty.”

Leo rolled his eyes. “Kiss me proper.”

“Give me my plate of cookies.”

Leo ducked down and pulled a heaping plate of brightly decorated cut-out cookies from a hiding place behind the counter. “Our cookies,” he corrected.

Teddy made a grab for one, but Leo was quicker, pulling them just out of reach.

“Kiss first!” Leo exclaimed.

Teddy grabbed again—successfully this time—for the plate and set it down beside him on the counter. Then he pulled Leo by the hips, close to him and kissed him properly. So properly that Leo was breathless when they finally pulled apart.

“Was that more acceptable, your highness?” Teddy said huskily.

Leo was still trying to find his words. “Um. Sure…that works.”

Teddy smirked and reached for a cookie.

“Oh no,” Leo said. “You’re uniform is all covered in flour from my apron!”

Teddy glanced down. “Hmm…we better get home then so you can take it off of me.” He looked up at Leo slyly.

Leo straightened his posture and put his hands on his hips, but the smile he was unsuccessfully hiding gave him away. “Teddy! What has happened to my shy little Teddy Bear?”

Teddy just grinned and bit off the head of his gingerbread man cookie.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

THE truth was, Teddy had changed. He had been so frightened that Christmas Eve two years ago to leave his life and become a real human. But Leo loved him. And he loved Leo. So he had taken a deep breath—or two or three—and threw all of his trust in Leo.

They left that night with Santa and traveled to the North Pole. He had had to change them back into ornaments one more time so they could fit in the sleigh. In fact Santa had a large red Velvet bag filled with other “magical” ornaments he was collecting on his travels that night.

But as soon as they had landed at the North Pole, true to his word, Santa had immediately turned them back into their human selves—permanently. Never would they have to be a Christmas ornament ever again.

The entire community of the North Pole had welcomed them all with open arms. All of the former ornaments were taken in and sheltered temporarily until they could take care of themselves. The people of the town taught them what it was like to really be human—how to cook and work and live.

Santa had immediately volunteered for he and Mr. Claus to take in Teddy and Leo and that did ease a lot of initial anxiety for Teddy. Still, this whole new world and way of being was a bit overwhelming in the beginning for Teddy. Leo, on the other hand, jumped into the whole experience feet, hands, arms and legs first. He loved every minute of being human and wanted to embrace every aspect of it.

Their opposite views often caused strains and arguments between Teddy and Leo, which only caused Teddy even more anxiety. This was everything Teddy had been afraid of. There were many times he was sure Leo was going to leave him. It didn’t help that Leo was so friendly with everyone—and all the single men in town flirted insanely with Leo whenever the opportunity arose. Leo was totally oblivious even though Teddy and everyone else could clearly see the others’ motives. So, this became yet another source of tension between Teddy and Leo.

In fact, Teddy didn’t think they would have made it if not for Santa and Mr. Claus. Not only were they extremely kind and patient and helpful with he and Leo, but they also were a wonderful example and inspiration. Santa and Mr. Claus often bickered good-naturedly but it was so obvious to anyone who saw them how much they loved each other. Teddy watched how they interacted and worked together—and more importantly how they treated each other. Teddy wanted a relationship like Santa and Mr. Claus had—he wanted he and Leo to be like that.

That was what ultimately kept Teddy going every day—his love for Leo and the promise of what could be. And eventually, every day was better than the next day. And the next after that. And the next after that.

A job aptitude test placed Teddy in the police training program—ironic since in ornament form he had been a soldier. Not only did he discover that he liked being a police officer, but that he was also good at it. This new purpose in his life helped his mood immensely.

Leo, didn’t even need to take an aptitude test. When he discovered Mr. Claus knew how to make those delicious decorated cookies—among many other wonderful treats—like the MacPhearsons had had, he was practically glued to Mr. Claus’s side. And Mr. Claus became just as enamored of Leo. He was thrilled with Leo’s enthusiasm for cooking and baking and took Leo under his wing, teaching him all he could. Leo was nearly in tears—all of joy—the day Mr. Claus asked him to come work for him in his bakery.

And so, Teddy and Leo finally began to find their way, together. With their new jobs, they were able to get a loan to buy their own little warm and cozy cottage. Just in time last year for their first Christmas Eve together in their new life.

They had been invited to so many parties and celebrations, but Leo declined them all, saying they had other plans. Then Teddy had drawn the short straw as the rookie and had to work the night shift.

“Leo, why do you keep telling people we have other plans?”

“Because we do.”

“But I’m working all night, it will be almost morning when I get off. And I’ll be exhausted. Why don’t you go to some of these parties? You’ll have a ball.”

Leo had turned to him and quickly put his finger on Teddy’s lips. “Christmas Eve is our anniversary. I don’t want to spend it with anyone but you. So you go to work and then you get your cute little butt home as soon as you can.”

So Teddy had done just that. When he walked in the door of their house at four a.m. he found a warm fire in the fireplace, a blanket on the floor with a spread of food. And cookies, of course. And Leo sitting there waiting for him.

When the clock struck six, they were still snuggled on the floor, naked and sweaty. Leo grew quiet, tears forming in his eyes.

“Leo, baby, what’s wrong?” Teddy asked.

Leo took a moment before answering. “It’s six a.m.,” he said quietly. “And you’re still here. And I’m still here. And we’ll be here tomorrow too. We didn’t turn back into those stupid fucking ornaments.”

Teddy reached over and wiped a tear away from Leo’s cheek. He didn’t trust himself to speak through the lump in his own throat.

“I…I know I pushed you. To do this, to come to the North Pole. Do you ever regret…that you are here now?”

Teddy was surprised. Leo looked downright nervous. He’d thought they had worked through all of this.

“My only regret is that I even, for one moment, hesitated.”

Leo’s face relaxed slightly. “It’s been a rough year, though.”

“But look where we ended up. Here, together, at—” he looked over his shoulder at the clock. “five past six a.m.” He smiled. “I never, ever want to be anywhere else, Leo.”

Leo’s smile lit up his whole face, and Teddy was the happiest man on the planet.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

TEDDY and Leo stepped out of the shop. Leo locked the door, then leaned back on it dramatically.

“I am so glad this day is done!” he said. He took a step forward and reached for Teddy’s hand. “Let’s go home!”

But Teddy didn’t take his hand. “You poor thing, you look exhausted. Are you sure you have everything before we head home?”

Leo gave him a quizzical look but started patting his pockets and then checking the bakery bag he was carrying. “Yes…I’m sure, I think…and I have our cookies…that should be everything.”

Teddy looked over Leo’s shoulder at the shop. “Babe, I think I see a light still on in the back room. Did you leave it on?”

Now Leo’s face furrowed as he turned around to look. “No I don’t think so.” He narrowed his eyes, looking inside the shop window. “I don’t see anything.”

Teddy grasped Leo’s arm and moved him a few steps away from the building. “Give me your keys, I’ll go back in and check.”

Leo sighed exasperatedly. “I really don’t see…but I can go in and check if it will make you feel better.” He started toward the front door, but Teddy stopped him again.

“No! Let me go. If you didn’t leave the light on…maybe someone’s trying to break in. I should go.”

Now Leo looked at Teddy like he was crazy. “Breaking in? It’s Christmas Eve!”

“And you know how crazy everyone gets tonight. Give me your keys.”

Leo rolled his eyes, but handed over his keys. “Fine, but hurry up, Detective. I want to get home.”

 

TEDDY hurried into the shop, toward the back room. He unlocked another door that was Mr. Claus’s office. There had been no light on, and no “intruder,” he just needed to get back into the shop without Leo.

In the office he pulled a smaller key out of his pocket and kneeled down to the small safe Mr. Claus kept behind his desk. Opening the safe, he smiled at the slim box inside. He picked it up and very carefully tucked it inside his coat pocket. He had talked to Mr. Claus two weeks ago and asked him to help him out with a special project. Thank God Mr. Claus trusted him with the key to his safe.

Inside the box were two special Christmas cookies. One decorated like a toy soldier, and one decorated like a dapper prince. Nestled in the icing of each was a simple silver band, both with the same inscription:

Leo and Teddy, Christmas Eve and Forever

Happy Anniversary, My Love, he thought to himself, as he smiled. Then he locked everything up and headed back outside to Leo.

 

~*~*~*~  The End ~*~*~*~

 

 

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Available at:
Dreamspinner Press
Blurb:
When Jack Frost’s aunt dies and leaves him her house in the tiny town of Great Falls, Jack seizes the opportunity to escape the rat race of Chicago for the quaint village he loved as a child. On his first night he’s welcomed by a baseball bat and a trespassing warning from Nick St. James—longtime Great Falls resident and infamous curmudgeon.Jack wants to give Nick the benefit of the doubt—he can’t deny his attraction to the big man—but after several run-ins with Nick’s grumpiness and closed-off heart, he’s ready to give up. Only after discovering the secret Nick’s been covering up for years does he vow to break through Nick’s walls to find the loving man hiding behind them.

 

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What Happens in Vegas…

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I joined a blog hop with 11 other authors to celebrate the passage of marriage equality and promote LGBTQ charities. The theme? Waking up married in Vegas. I LOVED the theme when I heard it and I couldn’t wait to write a story for it!!

Today my story was posted on Love Bytes review blog and I want to thank Dani and Love Bytes for hosting me as part of the hop.

Click here to read about Sean and Max and how one drunken night led to…Marrying the Best Man.

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Holiday Flash Fiction Blog Hop!


I am participating in the Holiday Flash Fiction Blog Hop Thorny and Kris have put together. Yay!! Stories were to be inspired by the picture below and include the following items:

  * A winter holiday theme,
  * A “bad boy” character, and
  * A gift of some kind (author’s choice).
(It was also supposed to be under 3K but my boy was so angsty I went a little over. Sorry! )

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I loved the picture immediately. The first thing that struck me was the loving embrace by the two beautiful boys, but how the young man in front doesn’t look all that happy. He was obviously sad or wistful, or any number of emotions.

The combo of the photo and the “bad boy” requirement made me think of two boys I wrote in another story called “Pretty Boy and Frankie.” It is part of the Project Fierce anthology that was released earlier this year by Less Than Three Press. All proceeds from the anthology go to help support Project Fierce in Chicago, an organization trying to buy housing and start a center for homeless LGBT teens. If you haven’t read or purchased it yet, I encourage you to check it out, a wonderful way to help out our LGBT youth this holiday and get a ton of short stories from a lot of very talented authors.

Buy links: Less than Three Press, Amazon, ARe, BN    projectfierce400

You don’t need to have read the original to enjoy this new fic, it is completely standalone. This story is a future-shot into where the boys are two years after the first one ended.

 

I’m sure everyone has read everyone else’s wonderful stories, but if not, just click the present below to visit the blogs of all of the other authors participating.

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* * * *

Home and the Heart
by C. J. Anthony

“Mommmmmy Pleeeease!” Frankie cringed at the loud screech that followed from the little girl upset at whatever she wasn’t getting. What the fuck, he thought, growling inwardly. It was Sunday afternoon and his only ambition had been to spend the next twenty-four hours home with his boyfriend in their apartment doing absolutely nothing. Well…maybe not exactly nothing, as he and Connor could always find something to do to keep themselves occupied.

Instead he was being assaulted from all directions with blinding lights, hordes of people brushing past him and the tinny caterwauling of yet another rendition of Jingle Bells blaring from overhead speakers. Connor had Christmas shopping to finish and had begged and pleaded until Frankie agreed to join him. Actually he had been bribed with the promise of a mind-numbing blowjob after they got home.

But going to the mall five days before Christmas—along with every other man woman and child in the entire city of Columbus—might not even be worth a blow job, now. The worst part was, he was blindly following Connor like a puppy dog, empty-handed while Connor carried two full, bright red store bags. Because Connor had friends and family to buy presents for. Connor’s relationship with his parents was still tense and awkward, but he and they still exchanged gifts like the perfect Stepford family. And Connor had numerous friends he’d met in his classes and various college activities.

Frankie had…the guys he worked with at the garage. And while they all grudgingly got along, they weren’t exactly the type of guys you gave a new pair of socks wrapped up in pretty paper and bows.

The nearness of Connor was the only thing keeping him sane in this holiday tsunami of people and holiday cheer. His whole body warmed as Connor wrapped an arm around him and nuzzled his face close to Frankie’s ear.

“Baby, you’re doing so good,” Connor whispered in his ear.

Frankie grunted. “Are you done yet?”

“Almost. I still have to get you something. Come over here and look—”

“Connor—”

“Frankie, come on, let’s just look okay?” Trapped by Connor’s arm around him, Frankie had no choice but to turn in tandem with Connor to face the front of the jewelry case.

“They have some nice stuff. This ID bracelet is gorgeous. A nice brushed platinum. Or look, they even have some nice braided leather cuffs­—”

Frankie sighed. Connor was involved in a campus gay alliance that had done a lot of work fighting for Marriage Equality. It still wasn’t legal in Ohio but it was only a matter of time. Ever since he’d started working with this group he’d been pushing Frankie for this commitment symbol bullshit. That he and Frankie should wear some reminder of each other that they both could keep with them at all times. Not a ring—thank God—but something that represented their relationship. Something that showed they belonged to each other.

He and Connor had been living together for two years and they’d met a year before that. Connor volunteered at the Sunshine Center, a homeless shelter in Chicago that Frankie often frequented. When he wasn’t spending nights in a park or an abandoned building, that is. At first Frankie just thought Connor was a spoiled little rich kid forced to slum it with the gay homeless kids. He tagged him Pretty Boy, meant as an insult, although in reality Frankie thought he really was beautiful. Then he found out Connor was gay. And then they spent time working together at the Sunshine Center. And then there was the night Connor came looking for him at the abandoned building he was staying at…and one thing led to another, as they say.

Except Frankie screwed it all up by skipping town the next day. Frankie’s uncle had got him a job working in one of his car-repair shops…in Detroit for a while, then Columbus, Ohio. It was a chance for a real job and a way off the streets…and his uncle didn’t really give him a choice. The mistake had been leaving Connor and not telling him he was leaving. He’d felt like a heel for doing that to Connor. And as much as he hated to admit it to himself at the time, leaving Connor had hurt like hell. Frankie had let his guard down and let himself fall for the guy even though he knew it could never work out. He was Cinderella living in squalor and Connor was the rich prince—but real life was hard and dirty and definitely no fucking fairytale. So he left. End of story.

Except it wasn’t. They must have had some kind of Fairy Godfather working behind the scenes, because a year later Connor came walking into the garage he was working in. Turned out Connor was attending Ohio State for college. They had been living in the same city for nine months and didn’t even know it. Frankie freaked. He initially tried to push Connor away for about five minutes. Connor was used to getting what he wanted, though, and he wanted Frankie. And damn if he understood it, but Frankie wanted Connor too.

They’d been together ever since. Every night they slept in the same bed. To Frankie that was commitment. What more did Connor need?

Frankie forcibly entangled himself from Connor and pushed away from him. He glowered at Connor. “Did you get all the stuff you wanted?” The hopefulness lighting up Connor’s face disappeared and Frankie’s heart broke. But right now in the middle of a jillion people was not the time or place to discuss this topic again.

“Yes,” Connor replied quietly.

“Then let’s get the hell out of here.”

They both were silent as they made their way through the maze of people and the endless rows of cars in the parking lot. Once they were in their vehicle, shut away from all the noise, Frankie paused before starting the car.

“What are you waiting on? You were in such a hurry to get out of there, let’s go.” Connor pressed, an edge to his voice.

Frankie banged his fists against the steering wheel. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Connor flinch.

“What the fuck is with you and this stupid idea of making me wear some fancy bracelet or necklace or whatever the fuck? I told you I don’t want nothin’ and I can’t wear that kind of shit anyway when I’m working on cars. So I’d just have to take it off anyway and then I’d probably just lose it or something stupid and then you’ll get all mad.”

When Connor didn’t answer Frankie turned to him. “Why the fuck is it so important? You know that kind of shit isn’t me.”

Connor let out a breath and closed his eyes briefly before looking straight at Frankie. “I just…” he paused and reached inside the neck of his shirt. “I still have your St. Michael’s medal. I wear it every day. It’s a piece of you I carry with me all the time. I just…I wanted you to have something similar, to make you think of me, to not forget me.”

Frankie’s eyebrows furrowed. “I see you every day, how could I forget you?”

Connor turned his head away and looked out the window. “Just forget it. I won’t bring it up again.”

“No, I’m trying to figure out why this is so important to you. I gave you my St. Michael’s medal to protect you, like my mama gave it to me.” Frankie’s Catholic upbringing was still with him even though he hadn’t been to church since his Catholic parents kicked him out of their house for being an abomination.

“Right. And it’s important to me because you gave it to me. I’ll always have it to represent you and me…no matter what happens.”

Frankie’s head whipped up. No matter what happens? What the hell did that mean? Shit. He got hot and his heart started hammering against his chest. Frankie had been expecting this moment for two years…and now it was here. He knew Connor wouldn’t be his forever. It was just a matter of time. Connor was almost done with school; he’d be graduating in the spring. He could go wherever he wanted then—find a job somewhere and make a new life with someone who had more education than a GED. Someone who didn’t come home every night dirty with grease under their fingernails. Fuck. Connor had been working a lot of late nights, maybe he was gone already. Maybe this gift thing was his guilty conscience trying to compensate.

“No matter what happens? What the fuck does that mean?” Frankie didn’t mean to sound so hard but he couldn’t help it.

Connor bent his head down and refused to look at Frankie. “If…” Connor paused and Frankie couldn’t breathe while he waited for Connor to finish.

“…you left again. If you had something to remind you of me, maybe you wouldn’t leave.”

Frankie blinked and tried to keep down the anger that boiled up in him. But when he opened his mouth the words just flew forth before he thought.

“Goddammit Connor. I thought we were over this. It’s been Two. Fucking. Years. Two years of coming home to you every night and waking up every morning next to you. Isn’t that enough? No, you think some pretty little bauble, some chain around my neck is what’s going to make me stay? I know I fucked up the first time but haven’t I proven myself? Shit. Shit Connor!” Frankie pounded the steering wheel again. “Why the fuck do you think I’m the one who’s going to leave? You’re the one who’s getting all smart and going to school and then you’re going to graduate and take off and rip my fucking world apart.”

You could hear a pin drop in the car. Connor and Frankie stared at each other, the cold air in the car seeping through their heavy coats into their bones. Frankie wanted to kick himself for what he’d just said. He couldn’t believe he’d just revealed himself that way. Frankie was tough from living on the streets, he knew the score, and he knew how to keep the wall up. But Connor just shattered it every damn time. And Frankie felt like he had just carved open his chest and let his heart bleed out everywhere.

Connor still stared at him with his mouth open. But the real truth came in his silence and Frankie’s heart sank. Connor wasn’t denying anything Frankie had just accused him of. Frankie faced forward, and started the car, blinking away the wetness in his eyes.

* * * *

When they got home, Connor made a grab for his arm as they got out of the car, and Frankie knew he wanted to say something but it was too late. Frankie stomped up the stairs to their second-floor apartment, slamming the door behind him. Connor came in a few minutes later, more quietly. And again Frankie could tell he was building up to say something until his phone beeped. It was one of his study groups, they were meeting and Connor was late. So without a word he grabbed his backpack and rushed out the door.

Frankie grabbed a beer from the fridge, slammed himself down on the couch and fired up the most violent video game he owned, the one Connor refused to play with him. He gripped the controller in his fists and jabbed at buttons, killing and smashing every object and person in his path.

* * * *

When he opened his eyes next it was pitch black. He blinked, and saw the TV was off. Rubbing his hand over his face, he winced as he moved, a painful kink in his neck from the position he was in. He’d apparently fallen asleep. The blanket from the back of the couch was partially covering him, which also explained the TV being off. Connor must have come home. As he sat up more fully his body urgently reminded him of the beers he’d had earlier.  Standing, he shuffled as quietly as he could through the darkened apartment toward the bathroom. He had to walk a few steps through the bedroom to reach the bathroom and when he got there he stopped in his tracks, his body’s needs forgotten. Enough light shown from the window for Frankie to see Connor, asleep and curled up on his side in their bed. Normally he would have been curled into or around Frankie’s body.

Frankie’s heart twisted and he leaned against the doorframe for support, sliding down until he was sitting on the floor. Connor was a heavy sleeper so Frankie knew he wouldn’t wake him. He took advantage of the time to watch Connor, in the quiet stillness. Connor’s blond hair was mussed across his forehead and he looked as sweet and innocent as the day he had walked into the Sunshine Center. He was beautiful and perfect and it was going to kill Frankie when Connor left.

Frankie’s anger from earlier was gone, replaced now with only sadness and resignation. Connor was all he had and when he left, Frankie would be alone in the world again. He’d survived when his parents abandoned him, and while hurtful, that had been somewhat expected. The Catholic Church was starting to bend a little more in their beliefs, his staunch Catholic parents were not. He knew they would not accept him when they found out he was gay.

And now, with Connor—even though he’d known the day would come—every day Connor walked in the door lulled Frankie into the belief that maybe, just maybe Connor would stay with him. Until tonight.

The only thing that didn’t make sense was this need Connor had to get him something, to want Frankie to wear something to “think of him.” If he were leaving Frankie why would he care? And why would he be so sad when Frankie refused? It was a silly piece of chain and metal. Frankie was glad Connor still wore his St. Michael’s medallion. But Frankie didn’t need something like that to make him think of Connor. The feeling in his chest every time he thought of Connor did that for him.

Frankie sat for a while on the floor until the chill wrapped around him and then he finally got up. After finishing in the bathroom he carefully climbed into bed next to Connor and watched him sleep. It was a long while before he finally fell asleep himself.

* * * *

The next morning, Frankie woke up to cold sheets. Connor was already gone—he had early classes on Monday. Normally Frankie was the one up and gone before Connor but on Mondays he didn’t have to go in till noon. When he stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee he found a note from Connor on the fridge—I’ll be home late, deadline at the paper. 

Frankie pulled the note down and crumpled it in his fist. His anger spiked but mostly he just felt numb. Yet another late night, imagine that. Connor had been accepted for an internship for a local city arts paper and all semester it had been the same thing—late nights, deadlines. Add in Connor’s classes, his study groups and extracurricular groups and there had been a lot of notes left on the fridge lately. Or voicemails. “Sorry babe, can’t make it…gonna be late…eat without me…” Frankie knew the internship was important for Connor; he’d been so excited when he got it, and Frankie tried to be supportive and understand all the time it took. In fact one of those late nights Frankie had decided to stop by with a pizza for Connor…only to find the place closed up. When Connor got home (later than Frankie) he said they had unexpectedly finished the issue up early and everyone had gone out for a celebratory drink. Frankie had been suspicious but let it go, wanting to stay in his happy little bubble for a while longer. Fuck, was he an idiot.

* * * *

Frankie made it through work on autopilot. But he couldn’t stop thinking of Connor and their argument yesterday. And how he’d left this morning without saying a word. Frankie checked his phone a few times during the day but there were no texts or voicemails from Connor, and normally there were several texts or calls from him in a day. Come to think of it, Frankie realized, those had slowed down too, lately, he just hadn’t realized it. Fuck!

He cursed several times under his breath as he left the garage and headed home. He and Connor lived in a small, cheap apartment Frankie had rented when he first got to town, it’s only important feature being that it was within walking distance to work. When he and Connor got together, Connor was still living in the dorms and when the semester was over they moved him in without question. Frankie had wanted to look for another, nicer place but Connor swore the apartment was fine. It was just off High Street and close to both campus and Frankie’s job. And the price was right, since Connor was paying his own way through school. He actually saved money by not having to stay in the dorms.

Frankie slowed his pace, not really wanting to get home to an empty apartment, not wanting to face the evening alone. Although, he probably was going to have to get used to being alone again, he couldn’t face it tonight.

Muffled music and the blinking neon Miller sign in the window caught his attention. Lucky Spades, a total hole-in-the wall dive bar that he and a couple of the guys stopped in once in a while for a drink after work. He stopped, staring at the blinking sign, and before he knew it he was pulling open the old wooden door. A beer and an excuse to not go home was exactly what he needed right now. Why rush home when no one was there?

There were a few other lonely souls inside, a couple guys and a woman playing pool in the corner. Two other men at the bar, arguing about if Ohio State could win the next championship game. Frankie chose a stool away from anyone and downed his first beer before the bartender had a chance to go help someone else.

He was on number three and starting to feel pleasantly fuzzy, when he noticed another guy in a red scarf who’d came in sometime between beer number one and beer number two. He’d sat down at the other end of the bar but had been watching Frankie for a while. Frankie turned his head to get the bartender’s attention for beer number four and when he turned back around he found scarf guy smiling at him with a very wicked grin. He was bald, with a couple days’ scruff, nice full lips and a very fit body hiding under his leather jacket. Frankie glanced away and counted to ten before slowly turning his gaze back. Scarf guy’s eyes roamed down Frankie’s body. He wasn’t obvious at all when his eyes shifted pointedly toward the restroom sign and then back to Frankie, a heated question in his eyes. Frankie’s eyes lingered on him for a few moments longer than they should have. The guy was hot, and interested. Clear in his intentions. Back in Chicago Frankie would have already been halfway to the bathroom. It had not been unusual in his old life to trade a blowjob for some food or some other necessity. A few times he’d done it for money. But this guy was so hot, Frankie would have gone just for the hot sex and his dick would happily be leading the way.

As he stared at the guy he gripped the cold beer bottle, running his fingers up and down it’s wet surface, and found his beer-soaked brain actually contemplating the man’s offer. Why the fuck not? Connor was not home, and he was here alone… Connor. His chest constricted as the vision of Connor’s beautiful face swam into his head. Fuck. In an instant he was furious and sickened that he’d even briefly entertained the thought of a cheap, quick bathroom fuck with some random stranger. He knew that his relationship with Connor may already be on its way out, but he wasn’t going to be the one to kick it out the door.

He drained the last of his beer, threw some money on the bar, and stumbled out of the bar on shaky legs. Outside he leaned against the side of the building, letting it hold him up while he gulped in lungfuls of bitter cold air. The guy hadn’t even made him hard; Frankie had no physical interest in him at all. He couldn’t believe he’d almost…fuck, he had to get a grip. Whatever Connor was going to do, he was going to do. And Frankie was just going to have to deal with it, right? He wasn’t going to beg or grovel. He didn’t want someone who didn’t want to be with him.

The cold air sobered him up just enough to get him moving again toward home. His brain was still woozy and sorting through a million different thoughts. He passed a pawnshop and saw rings and necklaces in the window, which just circled his brain back to the jewelry fight with Connor. They’d gone round and round on this for a few weeks. He frowned. Surely Connor wouldn’t throw Frankie away for something so silly? Because he didn’t want to wear some trinket to prove he loved Connor or that he belonged to him?

It hit him then so hard that in his booze-buzzed state he physically staggered on the sidewalk. How had he missed that before? God he was an idiot. Is that what all of this was about? Did Connor want some proof from Frankie that he loved him? Frankie was not exactly a romantic type of guy. He didn’t do flowers and he didn’t voice his feelings much. Instead, he took care of Connor—he made sure Connor’s car was running good and had it’s oil changed. He wasn’t much of a cook but he tried to make mac and cheese or order pizza for dinner when Connor was busy studying. He gave him some money a couple of semesters when Connor was short on tuition. They’d had to eat ramen noodles for a week until Frankie got paid again but they’d survived. Hell, he even went to that freaking mall yesterday because Connor wanted to.

He had told Connor he loved him a few times—the first time being one of the most terrifying things he’d ever done. Connor, of course, said it all the time, but that’s just who he was. He knew how Frankie felt about him, right? But Connor’s words from yesterday filled Frankie’s brain—“If you left again. If you had something to remind you of me, maybe you wouldn’t leave.” Frankie had gotten pissed off without even considering why Connor still felt that way. Frankie was so sure he was going to lose Connor some day he never even considered Connor might feel the same way.

Jesus, this relationship stuff was hard. Why did it have to be so hard? Why couldn’t he just wrap Connor up in his arms and go to bed and everything be fine?

By now he was almost home. Voices made him look up and he saw a couple of giggly girls coming out of the tattoo shop, and he stopped before he almost ran them over. Looking in the shop window, Frankie had an idea. He needed to prove how much Connor meant to him—even if it was too late. Maybe he could convince Connor to stay. Taking a deep breath he turned on his heel and entered the tattoo shop before he changed his mind.

* * * *

As soon as he stepped inside the shop his whole body flushed and his pulse started pounding. Did he really want to do this?

“Hey man, what can I do for you?” He looked up at the guy behind the counter, swallowed hard and started describing what he wanted.

The man nodded, casually. “Yep, I can do something like that. Come on back.”

They discussed the details and colors as Frankie took his jacket and his shirt off and settled into the chair. He tried to calm his breathing and his heart rate but it was impossible. He was hot and shaking and gripped the handles of the chair to try and steady himself.

The man turned around, and paused as he glanced down at Frankie’s white knuckles and his white face. “Chill out, dude. You’ve obviously been through this before,” as he nodded at Frankie’s arm and neck. “Nice dragon by the way.”

Frankie nodded. “This one’s just… important.”

He settled on a stool and leaned closer to Frankie, grinning. “Yeah these kinds of tats always are. Don’t sweat it though. I’ve got lots of experience at covering them up when it all goes south.” He laughed out loud then and Frankie gripped the chair tighter.

He gritted his teeth as the needle hit skin. He knew it shouldn’t be so painful and wasn’t in reality, but he knew he would feel every bit of this one, because he just couldn’t relax. He felt stone cold sober to the tenth degree if there was such a thing, hyper aware of everything around him.

The guy stopped and sat back. “Okay man, you have got to loosen up. You want a Xanax or something? Or a smoke? Your chest is moving up and down so much I’m gonna fuck it up if you don’t seriously calm the fuck down.”

Frankie took a few deep breaths and tried to settle himself, closing his eyes. “No…just do it. Now!”

An hour later Frankie was on his way again, nervous energy, and happy endorphins coursing through him. The guy had done a great job, and Frankie was thrilled with it. He finally understood what Connor felt like wearing Frankie’s St. Michael medal. He couldn’t wait to show it to Connor, hoping he would be just as happy as Frankie.

* * * *

Connor was already home when Frankie walked in the door of their apartment. He jumped up from the couch with a worried look on his face. “Where have you been? I though you got off work hours ago.” As he stepped closer he raised an eyebrow. “Have you been drinking? Are you drunk?”

“I just stopped off for a couple beers. I’m cool. I thought you were going to be late.”

“I was, but I got off sooner than I expected. Did you eat yet?”

Connor headed into the living room and Frankie saw an open pizza box on their makeshift coffee table. There were plates and two glasses and a cheap bottle of champagne.

Frankie furrowed his brows. He wasn’t sure what was going on. The pizza made sense but the champagne…?

They both sat down on the couch and Connor turned toward him. He looked nervous.

“So I know I’ve been working all of those late hours at the newspaper and I know you haven’t been real thrilled with me being gone so much.”

Oh shit. Was this it? Was he—but wait, people didn’t buy champagne when they were dumping you did they?

“I had to though, you know. I needed to make a good impression.” He stopped and finally broke out into a grin. “And it worked! They offered me a job. One of the regular writers is leaving next month. I’m going to keep working with them part-time through the next semester and when I graduate they’ll bump me up to full-time. I might even get my own column!”

Frankie’s heartbeat sped up. “You got a job? After graduation? Here?”

Connor took his hand and his smile dimmed. “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sooner, I’ve been hoping for it all semester but didn’t want to get my hopes up. Until yesterday and your speech in the car, I had no idea you thought I was going to leave. I had no idea you were even worried about something like that or I would have told you. Frankie, I have never had any plans of leaving here. Or you, God, especially not you! If I had to move somewhere else for a job, I never would have done it without talking with you first. Wherever I go, you’re coming too, or I don’t go.”

Frankie’s breathing hitched and he took a big gulp of air, causing the tape from the bandage on his chest to stretch and pull. He didn’t even feel the pain.

Connor picked up a piece of paper from the table and unfolded it. There was a picture of a house on it. “I’ve been looking at houses, thinking that now that I have a permanent job maybe we can move. I mean, I won’t be making a big salary, but with both of us working full-time we can afford a little more, right? It’s still a rental, I know we can’t afford to buy yet, but it’s in good shape and it’s bigger than this place and it has a yard…” He touched Frankie’s cheek tenderly. “You can finally have a real home again.”

Frankie was overwhelmed. He was happy and relieved and bursting with so much emotion. Connor was staying. Connor wanted a home. With him.

Connor pulled his hand away and tilted his head. “Is that okay? Can we move to a house? It’s not set in stone and we can look at others…”

“No, Pretty Boy, it’s okay…it’s fucking fantastic.”

Connor climbed on top of Frankie, straddling his hips. “Merry Christmas, baby.” Leaning in for a kiss, his chest pressed into Frankie’s, causing Frankie to hiss. Connor pulled back in concern. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Frankie protested, his face growing hot. Connor placed his hand on Frankie’s shirt, right on the spot above his bandage.

“Nothing? What is this under your shirt? Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.”

Connor began reaching under the shirt hem, forcing the shirt up and over Frankie’s head. Frankie hurriedly placed his hand over the bandage, shielding it from Connor. “Did something happen to you—oh. Did you get another tattoo?”

Frankie looked down, not wanting to meet Connor’s eyes. What seemed like a fantastic idea an hour ago, Frankie wasn’t so sure about now. To prove his love for Frankie Connor had given Frankie a promise that he was here to stay and put down roots. To prove his love for Connor, Frankie…had gotten a tattoo. He felt embarrassed and silly now. Of course, it’s not like he could hide it forever; Connor would see it eventually.

Connor tried to push Frankie’s fingers aside. “Well let me see! I didn’t know you wanted another tattoo. What’s wrong with it? Come on…” Connor would just pester him until Frankie showed him, he was a persistent little shit.

Frankie, still not looking at Connor, pulled his hand away. His whole body tensed while Connor carefully pulled the bandage off.

There was silence…seconds, minutes, hours of fucking silence. Connor stared at it for a while before reaching out to graze the tips of his fingers against it, so lightly Frankie barely felt it. Anxious and nervous, Frankie finally looked at Connor.

Connor’s face was impassive but his eyes were shiny.

“What…what does it say?” Connor croaked out.

The tattoo, right above Frankie’s heart, was a simple but beautifully scripted series of words. Decorative, swirled lines linked the words into the subtle shape of a heart. Connor’s name was the largest, linked with the Italian phrases, “Caro Mio, il mio cuore.” Frankie swallowed nervously. “It says ‘My pretty one, my heart.’”

Frankie couldn’t stand the silence and wanted to run. He started to shift, trying to move Connor off of him. “It was silly…” he mumbled under his breath.

“No!” Connor loudly exclaimed. He restrained Frankie’s arms to keep him from moving and pinned Frankie’s legs down with his own. “It’s not silly, it’s…beautiful.” Connor’s eyes glittered as he stared at it.

“You wanted me to have something that reminded me of you.” Frankie said quietly. “You’re always with me now.”

“Yeah, that’s…permanent.” Connor said quietly.

Frankie barked out a laugh. “Well the tattoo guy said he was pretty good at covering things up if I ever needed it…”

Connor frowned in anger. “Never. You are never covering that up!”

“I hope not,” Frankie whispered huskily.

Connor took Frankie’s face in his hands and kissed him, thoroughly and deeply, bruising Frankie’s lips with all of his emotion. When they finally pulled apart they were both breathless.

“So you like it?” Frankie asked.

Connor met Frankie’s eyes. “I love it. I…never thought… Oh Frankie, it means more than you know. I love you so much.”

Frankie’s heart filled and for the first time in twenty-four hours he could really, truly breathe again. “I love you too, Pretty Boy.”

* * * *